Durkan rejects FF merger claims

The SDLP is more focused on political realignment through a united Ireland than on any post-election link-up with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s Fianna Fáil, its leader insisted today.

The SDLP is more focused on political realignment through a united Ireland than on any post-election link-up with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s Fianna Fáil, its leader insisted today.

After general and local government elections in Northern Ireland which saw the SDLP hold its three Westminster seats, hold its Assembly Election percentage vote but lose some ground to Sinn Féin, Mark Durkan insisted his party had confounded critics who had predicted meltdown for the party.

He also dismissed suggestions that a merger or link up with Fianna Fáil was on the cards.

After a meeting at Stormont with the new Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain, the Foyle MP, who stunned Sinn Féin in the General Election by defeating their general secretary Mitchel McLaughlin with almost 6,000 votes to spare, said: “Our position on the issue of political realignment is what it always has been.

“We’re not pursuing mergers with parties in the South (of Ireland).

“What the SDLP is pursuing is getting the Good Friday Agreement restored, getting not only the institutions re-established but other institutions such as the North South Interparliamentary Forum and the North South Consultative Forum set up.

“Those will provide natural and organic realignment over time, realignment that will express itself in terms that are not about blunt mergers.”

During the General Election, Finance Minister Brian Cowen and Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern were criticised by Sinn Féin after they campaigned for Mr Durkan and South Down MP Eddie McGrady.

However other parties in the Republic of Ireland also rallied to the SDLP’s cause with Progressive Democrat Justice Minister Michael McDowell endorsing South Belfast MP Dr Alasdair McDonnell’s campaign and TD Liz O’Donnell also campaigning for the party.

The Irish Labour Party, the SDLP’s sister party in Europe, also dispatched its leader Pat Rabbitte to boost Mr Durkan’s campaign in Foyle and its deputy leader, Liz McManus for the launch of a women’s manifesto.

The leader of the main Opposition party, Enda Kenny of Fine Gael also travelled to Derry to back Mr Durkan’s bid to keep former SDLP leader John Hume’s seat.

“We enjoyed support from various parties in the South,” Mr Durkan acknowledged.

“But I think that reflects the SDLP’s distinct position in the North, as a party born out of the Civil Rights Movement.

“We are proud of and welcome the support and endorsement of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour and we want to work with those parties in reconvening the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation on the issue of Irish unity.

“We have a view that articulates a vision for unity in the context of the Good Friday Agreement and a vision of the Agreement in the context of unity.”

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